Avoiding Cell Phone Data Roaming Charges While Traveling In The United States – Success!

I’ve written a number of articles about my experiences with attempting to reducing my iPhone data charges while traveling in the United States and I”m happy to say that this year, I didn’t have any data “surprises”.

Last year, I got some unexpected charges because I wasn’t monitoring the data usage correctly and I also didn’t realize the excessive amounts of data used in Skype phone calls.

Read about last year’s experience:  How to avoid cell phone data roaming charges when traveling to the United States

How I saved on roaming charges this year

Roger’s has changed their roaming data plans signicantly from last year.  I decided to purchase a 20 MB one month data pack for $30.  Not exactly cheap, but a lot better than the roaming charges.

20 MB isn’t that much data for four days, but this time I had wifi available at the conference as well as in my hotel room.  One of the best things you can do to save on data charges is to use wifi, even if you have to pay for it.

One of my concerns from last year was a lack of data monitoring and no alerts from Rogers.  To fix this I bought an app for my iPhone called Data Usage Pro ($1.99), which measures your data use and categorizes usage by cell or wifi.  The cellular data usage is the number you have to monitor, since wifi data doesn’t cost you anything.

By monitoring my data usage and limiting my non-wifi data use, I was able to make the 20 MB last until I got to the airport in Denver on the way home.  At that point, I realized that a good friend of mine from Calgary was also in Denver so I gave him a call using Skype.  This ended up using a lot of data and my 20 MB data pack ran out. 

Roger’s sent alerts telling me this and made it easy to purchase another 10 MB for $10 day pass.  The other problem I had is that I got to the airport way too early and ended up doing quite a bit of surfing there which is why I bought more MBs.  All was not lost as it was a Sunday afternoon, so I spent a couple of hours drinking beer, watching football and surfing.

Better confirmation of data package purchase needed

My only complaint about this whole process was that the 20 MB data package doesn’t get activated until you cross the boarder.  The problem is that you don’t know if your purchase went through or not.  Why can’t Rogers acknowledge your purchase with an email, so you don’t have to worry?

I ended up buying two packages because I thought the first purchase didn’t work and had to phone to get one of them refunded later on.

Next year will be different

This will be my last year with a locked iPhone.  My plan in early 2013 is to buy a new iPhone once my current contract runs out and unlock the old iPhone and use that for foreign travel.  Once the phone is unlocked, I’ll be able to buy a local sim card and pay very low American data rates.

Summary – Ways to save on roaming charges

  • Make sure you understand exactly what data usage is and how to monitor it on your phone.
  • Buy a data package from your wireless provider.
  • Consider an app to monitor data usage.
  • Use wifi as much as possible. 
  • Avoid Skype or other Voip calls unless you are using wifi.
  • Leave phone at home or put it in airplane mode and just use it for calls.  Make sure you have a long distance calls package for this.

$250 Stimulus Check in 2012 for Social Security Recipients

Life nowadays has become harder and harder every day. Many are unemployed, the crime rate keeps on increasing everywhere, many people experience hunger and different forms of sufferings, and the worst part is that no matter how much you want to work harder, it seems jobs are too few and cannot accommodate all of the world’s huge population.

Will there be a Social Security $250 Stimulus Check in 2013?

A $250 stimulus check in 2012 for social security recipients is a not a sure thing at present.  The last time this check was issued, it was supposed to make up for the fact that there was no cost of living raise for Social Security recipients.  Given that the SS payments are going up 3.6% in 2012, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay this check out.

Learn how to calculate the 3.6% Social Security raise.

It would be nice to get some extra money, but given the large debts of the U.S. government, it is very unlikely that any stimulus check will be issued.

Previous stimulus checks

In 2008, a $600 stimulus check was paid out to most taxpayers in an effort to boost the economy by getting more cash into the hands of people likely to spend it.

In 2009, a $250 stimulus check was sent to all recipients of Social Security (retired people) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) for disabled people.





2011 Social Security Cost-of-Living Increase or COLA Adjustment

For the second straight year, there will be no Social Security cost-of-living increase or adjustment. The reason for the lack of a raise is the same one given for the zero raise in 2010 – inflation is very low and an increase is not necessary.

Now most people would argue that the methods used to measure the official inflation are flawed. However, the government gets the final word – so no raise.

Will there be a stimulus check to make up for the zero raise?

While the odds of a 2011 stimulus check for Social Security recipients is not very good – it’s not an impossibility either.

How is the COLA amount determined?

There is a measured index which is used to see if prices are going up or down. This will determine how much the official rate of inflation is. The index is called the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This index is tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics who have determined that this index has not changed between the third quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2010. This is why there was no raise in 2010 and why there will be no raise in 2011.

History of Social Security increases

Here is a table of all the SS COLA (increases) from 1950 onward.


$250 Stimulus Check in 2011 for SSI Recipients

SSI recipients are asking the question – Will there be another $250 stimulus check in 2011?

The government has not said anything about a $250 stimulus check for SSI recipients at this point in time. In 2009 however, SSI recipients were mailed a $250 check, so there is a precedent.

In late 2009, President Obama suggested sending another $250 check in for 2010 which never happened. The cost of living increase for SSI is zero in 2011, so it is not unfeasible that the idea of a stimulus check could arise again.

Will there be a $250 stimulus check in 2013 for SSI recipients?

SSI cost-of-living increase for 2011

The will be no cost of living increase for SSI recipients in 2011. According to the government, inflation is close to zero so no SSI raise will be given.

Should I count on receiving a $250 stimulus check

No – the government hasn’t said a word, which means there is a good chance there will be no check forthcoming.

History of stimulus checks for SSI recipients

2009 – Government paid out a $250 stimulus check to all SSI recipients as part of the general stimulus package of 2008.

2010 – SSI cost-of-living increase was 0%. Since inflation was close to zero – no need for a cost-of-living increase. Another check for $250 was proposed by President Obama in Fall of 2009, but it was never sent.

The potential 2010 SSI $250 check was voted down by the Senate.

SSI information

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income.

SSI government information

If you wish to look at the SSA (Social Security Administration) website then please go to

  • for the main SSA page.
  • for the SSI section.

$250 Stimulus Check in 2011 for Social Security Recipients

The question all Social Security recipients want to know is – Will there be a $250 stimulus check in 2011?

At this point in time, the government has not announced anything. However in 2009 – SS recipients were given a $250 check. President Obama proposed another check for 2010 which didn’t happen. Given that the cost of living increase for SS is zero in 2011, it is not impossible that this idea will get floated again.

Updated – find out about a $250 stimulus check in 2012 for Social Security recipients.

2011 Social Security cost-of-living increase

The cost of living increase will be zero. The government has determined that inflation is low enough that no increase is necessary.

Should I count on a stimulus check

No – nothing has been announced, so it is not wise to count on a check being sent.

History of stimulus checks for Social Security recipients

In 2009, the government decided to pay out a one-time $250 stimulus check to all Social Security recipients. Needless to say, this money was enthusiastically received. It was part of the general stimulus package that was announced in early 2009. The regular Social Security payments went up 5.8% in 2009, so getting a $250 check was a nice bonus.

In 2010, the Social Security cost-of-living increase was 0% which was mandated by law. The thinking was that since inflation was so low – there wasn’t any need for a Social Security COLA (increase). President Obama proposed another $250 stimulus check for SS recipients at the end of 2009 to make up for seniors not getting a Social Security raise. This proposed check was to have been paid out in the first quarter of 2009.

The check never got paid since the Senate voted down the 2010 Social Security stimulus check.

Social Security information

Social Security gives about $1,150 per month to the average retiree. 40 percent of income for elderly people is provided by Social Security. 20% of older married couples and 40% of older single people rely on it for at least 90 percent of their income.
Please look at the 2012 Social Security COLA increase.

Social Security payments will be going up in 2012 – To determine your increase, please check out the article: How do I calculate 3.6% Social Security raise for 2012?


Will There Be A Stimulus Check In 2011?

America is still hurting from the recession. Unemployment is high and the economy is not doing well. The country is just not growing fast enough to handle the large numbers of unemployed people.

People who don’t have jobs, tend not to have much money. People who don’t have much money, don’t spend much money. The economy slows down when too many people stop spending and indicators such as unemployment rates start to climb.

Find out if there will be a stimulus check in 2012.

It’s not just the unemployed who aren’t spending, many employed people have cut back on their expenses for fear that they might lose their jobs or face wage cuts.

Another problem is the real estate crash. Owning a house that has fallen in value or is under water will often make a person more careful with their spending.

Stimulus check in 2011

One solution to get people spending is another stimulus check in 2011. In 2008, the government gave out money in order to help the economy. Checks of up to $600 per person were mailed out. It’s hard to tell if that stimulus was successful or not. The economy hasn’t recovered, however the economy might be worse, had it not been for that $600 stimulus check.

The government has not announced any plans to give out stimulus check in 2011, but if the economy does not improve in the next few months then it has to be a consideration.

Recent stimulus checks

2009 – $250 stimulus check was mailed out for recipients of Social Security, SSI and others.

This stimulus check was intended to make up for the fact that the Social Security raise for 2009 was zero, because of low inflation.

2008 – $600 per adult, $300 per child.

These 2008 stimulus checks were mailed out to everyone, unless your income was too high to qualify. The idea behind these checks was to help stimulate the economy.

Check out the 2012 Social Security COLA increase.


$8,000 First Time Home Tax Credit Extended to September 2010

It was announced recently that the closing deadline to be eligible for the $8,000 tax credit was extended from June 30, 2010 to September 2010.  This will be a big benefit for people with new construction who are having trouble getting the house completed in time.

Originally, first time home buyers were eligible for an $8,000 credit for homes purchased before April 30, 2010 with a closing deadline of June 30, 2010.  Now the closing deadline has been extended to September 30, 2010.  Please note that to qualify for this credit, a purchase contract must have been entered into buy April 30, 2010 – that date has not been changed.

This change came about because of bill H.R 5623 – Homebuyers Assistance and Improvement Act of 2010. It was introduced and approved by the House (409-5) to extend the home buyer credit for new and existing home buyers

An $8,000 credit is available for first time home buyers.  Up to $6,500 is available for qualify current home owners.

How to claim for the home buyer tax credit

This information can be found on the IRS website.

You can claim this credit on your 2009 or 2010 return.

To claim on your 2009 return, the tax return must be file a paper return and attach Form 5405.  You must also include a properly executed copy of a settlement statement used to complete the purchase.

Purchasers of conventional homes

Include a copy of Form HUD-1, Settlement Statement, or other settlement statement, showing all parties’ names, property address, sales price and date of purchase.

Purchasers of mobile homes

If you are unable to get a settlement statement then include a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing all parties’ names, property address, purchase price and date of purchase.

Purchasers of newly constructed homes

If a a settlement statement is not available, then include a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the owner’s name, property address and date of the certificate.

Note Regarding Signatures

While the Form 5405 instructions indicate that a properly executed settlement statement should show the signatures of all parties, the IRS recognizes that the elements of the settlement document, often a Form HUD-1, may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may not reflect the signatures of the buyer and seller. The settlement statement that must be attached to the return is considered to be properly executed if it is complete and valid according to local law. In locations where signatures are not required the IRS encourages the buyer to sign the settlement statement prior to attaching it to the tax return even in cases where the settlement form does not include a signature line.

Long-Time Residents

The November 2009 legislation extends the credit to long-time residents of the same main home if they purchase a new main home. To qualify, eligible taxpayers must show that they lived in their old homes for a five-consecutive-year period during the eight-year period ending on the purchase date of the new home. For long-time residents claiming the credit, the IRS recommends attaching, in addition to the documents described above, any of the following documentation of the five-consecutive-year period:

  • Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, or substitute mortgage interest statements,
  • Property tax records or
  • Homeowner’s insurance records.

General Information

Home buyers who purchased a home in 2008, 2009 or 2010 may be able to take advantage of the first-time homebuyer credit. The credit:

  • Applies only to homes used as a taxpayer’s principal residence.
  • Reduces a taxpayer’s tax bill or increases his or her refund, dollar for dollar.
  • Is fully refundable, meaning the credit will be paid out to eligible taxpayers, even if they owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed.

Unemployment Benefits Extension 2010 Updates

This page will contain the latest information on unemployment benefits extension information in 2010.

How the current unemployment benefits tiers work

Currently, Americans can qualify for the following unemployment benefits:

  • 26 weeks of benefits offered by their state.
    Tier 1 – 20 weeks – paid by the government via the stimulus bill.
    Tier 2 – 14 weeks
    Tier 3 – 13 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 6% or higher.
    Tier 4 – 6 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 8.5% or higher.

Tier 1 through 4 are also known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC).

It is important to know is that the state unemployment benefits is the only permanent program on the list. All the unemployment benefit “Tiers” are temporary programs with expiry dates after which they won’t be funded anymore. Each tier has a “filing deadline” which is the date by which someone has to apply for a new tier of unemployment benefits.

All the four tiers have a filing deadline of June 2, 2010.

This means that in order to receive benefits for any given tier, you have to be eligible for that tier before June 2, 2010. This doesn’t mean your benefits will disappear on June 2, only that you can’t start a new tier of benefits after that date. You can’t be eligible for a new unemployment benefit tier until you have completed your current tier.

There have been several extensions given so far and the government is currently working to try to continue with these extensions.

I’m receiving EUC benefits right now – will they stop on June 2?

No, if you are currently receiving benefits as part of EUC or Tier 1,2,3 or 4 then you will receive benefits until the end of that tier. For example if you have received 5 weeks of benefits as part of Tier 3 (13 weeks) then you will still receive the remaining 8 weeks even though those payments will go past June 2.

My current tier of unemployment runs out after June 2 – can I still get the next tier?

No, that’s where the filing deadline comes into play. The filing deadline only affects people who are starting a new unemployment tier. If the filing deadline has gone past and you are trying to receive benefits for a new tier of unemployment then you will not be successful unless the filing deadline is extended.

Example – person continue to receive benefits after filing deadline

Susan is currently receiving benefits from Tier 3 which provides 13 weeks of benefits. She has 9 weeks to go but most of those weeks are after June 2. Since she has already started Tier 3 then she will continue to get benefits until her Tier 3 allocation is finished.

Example – Person can’t get to next tier after filing deadline

John is currently receiving benefits from Tier 3 which provides 13 weeks of benefits. He has just a couple of weeks to go but his Tier 3 runs out just after June 2. Since he will be applying for Tier 3 after the June 2 filing deadline then he won’t be eligible for anymore unemployment benefits unless the filing deadline is extended.

Does this have anything to do with creating new tiers of unemployment benefits?

No, there has been discussion of creating a Tier 5 extension for “99ers” who have exhausted all 99 weeks of available benefits but that is not discussed on this page.